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f all the things I feared would wreck this epic trip with my dad, I never thought it would be my messed-up back. After weeks of anticipation, planning, and prepping, I threw my leg over a bike in some strange, abnormal motion the morning of our trip and had to be walked back to bed, where I would remain for the next 48 hours, unable to even get up for a glass of water without excruciating pain in my lower back. I had been through this before, I knew I would be okay in a few days, but our five-day trip was getting shorter and I could only blame myself. “Dad, I messed up my back.” “How bad?” “Well, I can’t really move. I can sit on a bike, but I can’t really get it off its kickstand on my own.” “Okay, well, rest up and we’ll see how you feel tomorrow. Remember we’re doing this for fun, and if you’re hurting, it isn’t fun.”

Morgan and pops
Pops and me at our first stop at my little brother's house in Kingsburg, California.Morgan Gales

I would have bitten the bullet and gone if he said so, but his attitude was reassuring. I couldn't shake the fact that we set these dates six months ago, and while I get to ride all the time, he doesn't have the same opportunity. His words did so much to ease my guilt, but I still knew that if I had been focusing on strength and flexibility back there, like I've needed to do since the initial injury that started all this mess, we'd be 100 miles up the road on the start of our bucket-list ride by now. So I rested, and waited, and felt bad, but with the help of a massive bottle of Aleve and about 100 Icy Hot back patches, I was ready to get on the road by the start of what would have been our third day. I could tell Pops was bummed too, but he was also excited to get on the road and that we weren't giving up.

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Pops riding down the hill leaving Yosemite.Morgan Gales

I showed up on Tuesday morning at my parents' house and my dad already had the bike loaded up. I imagine it had been loaded for a couple of days now. He was to be on the accessorized Indian Scout that we had kitted out for him, and I was going to be riding an Indian Roadmaster Elite—a bike with good suspension and a wide, cushy seat that would give my aching back a break. All his things went into the leather saddlebags on the Scout, and I had plenty of room for anything we were sharing on top of my things in the Elite. We had talked about camping a bit before, and I was still set on hitting either Rock Creek Lake or Tamarack Flat campground, one inside and one near Yosemite in Central California—so I had all of my camping gear loaded up in one bag as well. We paired up our SENA headsets and headed north to Kingsburg in California's Central Valley, where my little brother lives and where we would spend our first night.

parked bikes
Our Indian Scout and Roadmaster Elite with Yosemite's Half Dome in the background.Morgan Gales

The ride from Orange County to Los Angeles was easy; we didn’t hit too much traffic and when it did slow down, I was happy to see Pops splitting lanes efficiently behind me. Anytime there was a question, I could pop in on the intercom and make sure we were all good, then go back to my jams and continue on the road. We didn’t have a ton of ground to cover, about 300 miles, so we stopped often and took a few scenic detours, talking in our helmets most of the time along the way.

“You know it’s not just about exercise and flexibility, right, Morg?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s about stress management too. I bet you were stressed leading up to this, and that played a huge factor in your injury.”

Damn it, Dad. He was dead-on accurate. I used to be much more active before I made my living sitting on motorcycles and at a desk writing about them. I used to go out and do way more things—hike with my friends, ride my bicycle—and it’s not that I don’t want to do those things anymore, I just seem to not find the time to make it happen. Maybe it has to do with motorcycles being my favorite thing ever and not thinking I need a break from that, when I do sometimes. Instead of my canyon-blasting stress relief, I should go hike through one instead—and honestly just pay more attention to that aspect of my life. We’d been on the road for a couple of hours and he was already cutting to the core, but in a good way, and luckily we were pulling into my little brother’s place before things got too real.

helmet selfie
Catching a father-and-son selfie with Half Dome.Morgan Gales

My little brother Fletcher lives on a peach orchard, where he pays $400 a month and helps the owner of the land with a little maintenance here and there—it’s a pretty awesome setup for a single guy in his early twenties, except for the fact that it’s in Kingsburg, miles away from anything other than crops and livestock. I stop here on most of my trips north to drink his whiskey and sleep on his couch, and he’s always stoked to see me and whoever I bring along. We said hello and hung out around his place for a bit before heading into town to have some dinner and rent a movie because he doesn’t have internet and basically just watches Lonesome Dove on repeat. Pops took the inflatable and I took the couch. My back was feeling better and I was really just excited to be on the road and finally doing it. The next day was going to be the glorious one: We were heading into Yosemite and it looked like the weather was going to be perfect.

We woke up naturally around 7 a.m. and walked outside to wipe the dew off the bikes. Fletcher had already taken off for work, so we mapped out our route for the day and started loading up the bikes. It was at this point my dad throws out this caveat.

“Oh, you didn’t grab my camping gear off of the counter?”

“Did you tell me to?”

“Oh, no, I most have forgotten.”

In my family, we call this “accidentally on purpose.” He didn’t really want to camp at all, and while I was super excited to see some of my favorite campgrounds, I was also not mad at the idea of resting my back in a real bed somewhere. So we laid out the ride for the day through Oakhurst with lunch at Yosemite Village, then heading out to Bishop for the night. Not a ton of miles, but we’d be riding through some of the most gorgeous views the US has to offer, and this place is magical. Riding it was magical, until we got to some elevation and the roads were covered with slush and snow.

pops
The Sena units we used ended up being a huge part of the trip, allowing us to talk about everything from bad road conditions to my bad life choices.Morgan Gales

“Heads up, Dad! You just see me slide?!”

“Yup, I’m going to go very slow.”

“Good call. Ride where the tires have cleared out the snow, don’t use your front brake, and be consistent with your throttle.”

You can prepare for a lot of things, but ice and snow are really hard ones to prep for in California. Like I mentioned in Parts One and Two, though, Pops has some dirt experience and luckily that was paying off now. We stopped often to take in the sights and take some photos, mainly talking about riding, the bikes, and what was around us. Exiting Yosemite on the east side and coming through Tioga Pass was the worst of the snow we would see, so as the roads dried on our way down the mountain, our clenched shoulders could finally start to relax a little. Once we hit Highway 395, it was basically a straight shot to our hotel for the night.

We pulled into the quaint old town of Bishop just in time for an early dinner, and while Pops checked us into the hotel, I snuck away to buy some beer and a pack of smokes. This was the last night, and we had about four or five hours of riding ahead of us the next day to get home. We sat in the hotel Jacuzzi and talked a little bit more about the important stuff.

“Ya know, it’ll always catch up with you eventually,” he said after a moment of silence.

“Yeah, I learned that when I didn’t pay my speeding ticket and got arrested,” I responded.

“I thought you did.”

“Damn it. Easy…,” I said with a slightly warning tone in my voice.

“Haha, you know I’m right.”

morgan and pops
One of many "no reason" stops to just walk around and soak in the natural beauty around us.Morgan Gales

And he was. Whether he was talking about paying tickets, taxes, exercising, or going to the dentist, all the things I put off in lieu of only work and play are going to catch up with me. There's a spirit aspect too—and that doesn't necessarily mean religion. For me, it means getting back out on trips like this. Going out and climbing a hill or a rock instead of farting around on my Xbox or going out drinking. Doing the right thing for my mind and body instead of what's easy, numbing, and fun. Did I grow the hell up just then? Not yet, but I took a big damn step on this trip.

We woke up in the morning after some good hotel-bed sleep and got some breakfast while the roads warmed up a little. We were a little quieter in our helmets now, probably somber to be heading home. The original five-day trip would have been amazing, but the three days we had were incredible as well. I’m not saying I’m going to join a gym, but since I’ve been back I’ve been taking walks with my dog most mornings and trying to slow things down a little bit more. I never paid attention to my stress, even when my stomach would be in knots and my body was trying to tell me that I was losing it, I’m focusing on that and getting better. My dad and I are talking more, about things both big and small now. He’s currently in Egypt and I’m writing this from a hotel in Milan and we’ve been checking in with each other almost everyday, something we haven’t done since… well, ever. This trip was amazing for our relationship, and for my spirit.

Life’s about the balance, and if you can’t walk the line, you’re the one who will suffer. It’ll all catch up to you eventually, whether that’s time invested with family or taxes you never paid—good or bad, it all comes back.